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What is a Little Owl?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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The little owl, also known by the scientific name Athene noctua, is a type of owl native to the central and southern parts of Europe. It was introduced to Britain in the late 1800s, and is sometimes found in New Zealand as well. With an average height of just 9 inches (22 cm), these birds are much smaller than most other types of owls. They are usually gray, brown, and white in color with a flat head and yellow eyes. Little owls are often seen in the open countryside, occasionally inhabiting hollowed out trees and abandoned buildings.

The two major groups of owls are called Strigidae and Tytonidae. Strigidae owls are also known as typical owls, and Tytonidae owls are frequently referred to as barn owls. The little owl belongs to the Strigidae family.

Most owls are nocturnal, only coming out at night to hunt and staying hidden during the day. The little owl differs from other owls because it isn't entirely nocturnal, and may often be seen hunting during the day. These owls are classified as carnivores, but it's not unheard of for them to eat berries and various types of plants. Worms, insects, and small mammals generally make up the majority of a little owl's diet.

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Breeding normally takes place during the summer months. Instead of building nests like many other birds do, the little owl will use a previously inhabited nesting hole, a rabbit hole, or a crevice inside a tree to house its young. Little owls usually lay two to five white eggs which hatch approximately 25 days after they are laid. It takes about three to four weeks before the baby owls can safely leave the nest.

During the 1960s, Britain began using an extremely toxic chemical pesticide called organochlorine. This substance entered the food chain and had a negative effect on the fertility of the little owl and other predatory birds. As a result, the population of the little owl began to decline and they became an endangered species. The population of the little owl increased after this substance was banned, but there are still some other factors affecting their numbers. Increased development in Europe is slowly eliminating their habitat, and domestic cats are killing many others.

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